The black woman’s body is red taped. We learn early that our bodies are not wholly acceptable. There are certain parts that we are required to hide away. We must tuck away the “taboo” and cover up the “sexual” at all costs.Before sex education, we already know to sit with our legs crossed – lest we sit like boys and ruin our honour. We must not play like boys – even when playing with boys, we must remember to cover up what they show uninhibitedly. The boy’s honour is not draped around their skin the way ours is – we must accept this and guard the templeness of our bodies against any contamination.

mosaWe pay for our breath in pretty. Our beautiful feels incomplete because not enough people who look like us are called beautiful. And what does it matter to be pretty? As a black woman, it matters everything. We are pressured to fuss about looking too thin, or too voluptuous. We workout so that we are fit, but God forbid we get too fit – then, we worry that we look masculine.

Our bodies are under inquiry. Over the years, we have watched black women’s bodies get probed in media; Beyoncé was too sexual in leotards, Lil Kim just didn’t put enough on, Nicki Minaj was fake, Angela Bassett, Viola Davis and Michelle Obama were too fit – all of this in the age of Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azelea, Kim Kardashian and Pink, who are hailed for their bodies. In recent events surrounding the championship of Olympian, Caster Semenya, the whole world offered its 2c on her body and what she should be allowed to do in it.

A black girl’s glory is always under question. Whenever we shine our bodies are placed under a microscope – and even our beautiful is harmful under a harsh gaze. Tebogo Ramagaga (26), knows – first-hand – the experience of a body under gaze. Tebogo grew up slender and active. At twelve when her peers were still skipping rope and playing black maipatile, she was growing breasts and aging, rapidly.

“As soon as I got my breasts, I became a woman. I couldn’t walk to the shop without getting advances from men older than my elder sister. It was very traumatic. At first I would get anxious and embarrassed over it – after a few years it became normal. On an ordinary day, I would be harassed by several groups of men and that became some kind of backdrop – a background against which, I learned my body.

Needless to say, I had a very warped relationship with my body. I spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to love myself – where this body is concerned, and how to remove the backcloth of all the men and women – who have treated my body badly.

My nudity is different from a man’s. Apparently, women’s functional parts are different from men’s. Look at men’s breasts for example… what use are they? If anything was for show, wouldn’t it be their chests? I would ban that from day television if anything had to be X-rated – but men’s upper body nudity is completely above board. The breasts that feed babies are what is greyed out on media.

img_7271My body is sexual. The whole world sexualizes our bodies. More so when your breast-size is 36 DD or E – depending on the mood of your chest. I remember being too young for all the things I found out about sex and sexuality. The interactions I had with men sexualized my body before sex education at school. Even though I am older now and understand sexuality in a broader way than I did as a teenager, I sometimes still battle with the distorted view of my body as purely sexual.

I cannot recount how many men I have seen half naked men. But I can count the number of times I have worn a tank top and shorts. I remember all the comments and the stares. I remember being told that sex blew up my breasts. I was called promiscuous before I had sex for the first time. I remember my mother being asked to breastfeed in the toilet – instead of the restaurant where everyone else was eating.

My breasts are a constant trigger. Sometimes when I touch them, I recall all the violent and hateful things that happened to me because I look the way I do. All the times men I considered friends have betrayed my trust, the times lovers have objectified me, and all the women who secretly blamed me for all the ugly things that I experienced.

Surviving my body. I have learned how to single my body out from my soul. I am now able to hear my spirit outside my body. And that’s helpful – for me to remember that my body is just a home. And a beautiful home too. I listen to what my spirit needs from me mentally, physically and emotionally. When my spirit needs me to work out, I do that. I pray and eat and love when I need it. Sometimes my body needs me to lay low and be kinder. Sometimes my heart needs me to look at my breasts and cry out all the things I missed, all the things I endured and all the trouble I have seen – that is alright too.

Surviving my body is about the truth of every moment, even when it is just sadness and loss. It is also about fighting to wear whatever I want to wear, when and how I want to wear it. It is about enjoying my sexuality, when and how I want to. It is about saying “no” and saying “yes” as and when I want to. It is about being beautiful for myself. ”

Ashley Makue is a writer, poet and lover of arts based in South Africa. She is an active feminist and through her work with The Ladies Empowerment Organisation, Love Life and The Lebohang Mokoena Project she contributes to causes for educating African girls about their important and immovable place in the world.

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